Claire Kart of ‘O(1) Labs’: “Speak up”

Speak up. If you aren’t being given opportunities to grow, or if you’re being mistreated, that’s a problem. Hold the leaders of your community, company or organization accountable to creating a culture where everyone can thrive. I had the pleasure of interviewing Claire Kart, Head of Marketing & Community at O(1) Labs, the team behind Mina. […]

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Speak up. If you aren’t being given opportunities to grow, or if you’re being mistreated, that’s a problem. Hold the leaders of your community, company or organization accountable to creating a culture where everyone can thrive.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Claire Kart, Head of Marketing & Community at O(1) Labs, the team behind Mina. As the world’s lightest blockchain, Mina aims to make the cryptocurrency space more inclusive and accessible to all by deploying cutting edge technology to ensure the blockchain always remains the same size (about 22 kb). Claire has supported efforts to build Mina’s community, which includes participants from more than 180 countries who speak 15+ languages. Claire also led Mina’s recent rename and rebrand from Coda Protocol, which was announced in September 2020. Claire graduated from Dartmouth College with honors, earned her MBA from University of Texas at Austin, and, for her first job in tech, was an early employee at SoFi.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the story of how you decided to pursue this career path? What lessons can others learn from your story?

I was working in rural India in 2011 when I discovered bitcoin. I had a very unreliable internet connection, but I remember staying up all night, when it was easier to get bandwidth, and downloading and reading everything I could. I was working in international development, and my main interest was in how bitcoin, or digital currencies more broadly (though it was the only one at the time), could improve accessibility of financial services and technology.

I wanted to work in blockchain, but it was early, and my skills weren’t yet relevant. In 2013, I returned to the US to get my MBA at the University of Texas at Austin. Still, I found it too early to get into blockchain professionally, but the closest thing seemed like fintech, so I joined SoFi as a very early employee. It was my first job in tech, and was an incredible training ground as a startup marketer. Our successes there are textbook examples of so many fundamentals of early stage marketing. By 2017, the ecosystem was maturing, marketing experts were in high demand, and the boom was creating a lot of opportunities. It was around this time that I started talking to Ripple about joining to build and strengthen their diverse communities and user groups. I knew I wanted to be at an early stage company again, similar to my experience with SoFi, and that’s what led me to O(1) Labs, and ultimately to work on incubating Mina.

Can you tell me about the most interesting projects you are working on now?

Our main focus on the O(1) Labs team is preparing Mina for mainnet launch. Mina aims to usher in a new era of accessibility for blockchain technology. By leveraging recursive zk-SNARKs, an application of zero knowledge proofs, Mina is able to stay the same size — 22 kb, or the size of just a few tweets. Compared to legacy blockchains like Bitcoin and Ethereum, which recently exceeded 300k mg and 4 tb respectively, Mina’s incredibly small size and lower data requirements, gives many more users the chance to become nodes. We have launched programs to support those new to node operation to learn from users with more advanced technical knowledge and are committed to expanding participation in the cryptocurrency ecosystem as a whole.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’m grateful to my grandmother, Madlyn. She attended college in the 1940’s and was very independent. She encouraged my big ambitions, including going out of state for college to a private university. For the most part, I put myself through college. My grandmother would send me a handwritten letter, with 20 dollars tucked in the card every month. It seems like such a small thing now, but when times were really hard, it helped reinforce my conviction to finish my degree and start a career. Opportunities were much more limited for women during her time, and I know she felt held back by that. Whenever I face a big challenge in my career, I think of how excited she would be for me, that I have a seat at the table and that the opportunity is wide open.

What are the 3 things that most excite you about blockchain and crypto? Why?

  1. Shifting power dynamics — The Web 2.0 is powered by centralized corporations that make billions by collecting user data to sell to companies for ad targeting. This system has turned users into the product; we’re all being commoditized and used by large tech companies. I hope to soon see a new Web 3.0 that is powered by participants — more accountable, better at serving their interests, and more open to users influencing the technology, not just using it.
  2. Verifiability — We are experiencing a massive erosion of trust in legacy, centralized institutions. Without verifiability that a video is real, that a person is who they say they are, and that a vote is legitimate, we have very little trust in the systems we count on for news, communication, and democratic elections. Blockchain technology can bring much needed transparency and accountability to these systems and help them evolve.
  3. Massive Opportunity for Innovation and Wealth Creation — The aspect of blockchain technology that excites me the most is the incredible opportunities it enables to include more people in the next wave of technical innovation and wealth creation.

What are the 3 things worry you about blockchain and crypto? Why?

  1. A very small, homogenous group of people benefited from the dot com boom, either by owning companies or by owning stocks. My hope is that many more people, including women, people of color, and people of varying socioeconomic backgrounds, will benefit from the blockchain revolution.
  2. I also am concerned about the accessibility of blockchain systems that will give rise to so many more opportunities for value creation and participation in a new economy. We need to focus on ease-of-use so that more people, regardless of technological know-how, won’t be turned off by the complexity of the blockchain ecosystem. This is also why Mina is making accessibility a big focus of our development efforts. By ensuring the blockchain remains a constant, small size, we make it possible for anyone with access to the internet to participate.
  3. As much as the blockchain ecosystem has grown, it is still a nascent industry with a long way to go before we see mass adoption of blockchain systems and dapps. I do believe, however, that as blockchain becomes more accessible, the advantages of decentralized systems will become undeniable.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?

I helped establish a community-based micro grant program in rural India for women who want to pursue college-level education. We’ve awarded over 300 scholarships to date, it’s expanded to three different states, and it’s fully community controlled and operated. There is no lending for college-level studies in India — if you can’t pay upfront, you don’t go. This is a small way to give more women the opportunity to establish a career.

It’s also been incredibly rewarding to see the Mina community grow because of the value for accessibility and inclusivity that we’ve been able to foster. I’m proud to say that we now have more than 1,000 users from over 180 countries who have participated on the Mina testnet, with more than 7,000 community members participating in the greater Mina ecosystem. I’m very excited about what this extraordinary growth means for our goal of ensuring that everyone benefits from all the Web 3.0 has to offer.

As you know there are not that many women in your industry. Can you share 3 things that you would you advise to other women in the blockchain space to thrive?

My advice to women would be the same as my advice to anyone.

  1. Make friends. People in crypto are friendly and collaborative. Reach out to people at other projects who do similar work to you — get to know them, trade ideas, and help each other out. The industry is still young enough that we all consider each other friends, not competitors.
  2. Bring your experience in. This is emerging technology, so everyone is figuring it out and the industry is moving really quickly. If you’re sincere about learning and ready to overcome a high degree of ambiguity, there is a place for you, and the skills you have from outside the industry will definitely apply.
  3. Speak up. If you aren’t being given opportunities to grow, or if you’re being mistreated, that’s a problem. Hold the leaders of your community, company or organization accountable to creating a culture where everyone can thrive.

Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the blockchain industry?

The problems in blockchain are the same as the problems in the wider tech world, and those problems are structural. I’m reluctant to suggest there is an easy way to fix it, but I think one important part is making the technology more accessible. We can do this by reducing resource requirements and improving usability. As many people as will work in blockchain, there are 1000x the numbers that can use the technology, so we have to work on accessibility to have a big impact.

What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?

A life lesson I live by is ‘love what you do, don’t do what you love’. Most career advice suggests that you should follow your passion, but I find that intimidating and unrealistic. No matter how much you like your job, there aren’t going to be sparks of passion and inspiration flying every day. If you love what you do, you find enjoyment in your day-to-day.

I started my career trying to identify what I was passionate about, and that led me in a lot of different directions. After a few years, I would be on to the next ‘passion’ as my interests shifted. Once I started trying to love what I do, I found joy in my day-to-day — a well-designed spreadsheet, a successful meeting, onboarding a star new hire — and it led to accelerated career success and confidence. I still do things I’m passionate about, but I consider them hobbies, and I give myself the freedom to walk away from them when I lose interest.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

As I’ve discussed throughout this interview, I’m very enthusiastic about improving accessibility of blockchain technology and dapps. We are on the threshold of a great technological shift, and a period of great wealth accumulation — the more that can be equitable and well-distributed, the better.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Here are our main social media and community channels:

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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